CIA Director Porter J. Goss plans to deliver to President Bush today his plans for increasing by 50 percent the number of clandestine operations officers and analysts to expand U.S. intelligence on terrorist networks and to counter the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, according to senior intelligence officials.
Goss will stress, as he did last year, that he wants to get more people overseas, "in the field," including not just clandestine officers but also knowledgeable analysts, one senior administration official said yesterday. His plan will focus on recruiting more officers and analysts who "look, sound and talk like" the groups being spied on, so that they "can have close access and learn plans and intentions," the official added.
Last fall, Bush ordered that a 50 percent increase in personnel take place "as soon as feasible," but current and former clandestine operatives say it will take many years before large numbers of newly trained case officers can be sent out to recruit foreign agents with access to terrorists or who know about chemical, biological or nuclear weapons efforts.
"It is easy to say you are going to vastly increase the case officer output . . . but much harder to do in reality," said a senior official with long experience in clandestine service.
Goss is expected to be questioned on his plans when he appears today with the heads of other intelligence agencies before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for its annual hearing on worldwide threats. The group appeared yesterday in closed session before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, but neither Goss nor several members of the panel would discuss it.
Bush ordered the increase in intelligence officers and analysts after the Sept. 11 commission report detailed broad shortcomings in U.S. intelligence and called on the CIA to hire more and better-qualified people.
Although the number is classified, there are roughly 5,000 case officers in service, with one-third to one-half of them overseas.
Efforts to rebuild the CIA's human intelligence capability began in 1998. At that time, when then-CIA Director George J. Tenet put together his first strategic plan to revitalize the clandestine service, only a handful of new recruits were being trained at Camp Peary in Virginia, known as "The Farm."
The physical facilities there had become run down, and faculty positions had come to be regarded as jobs for people either on their way out or those with no future at the CIA. "People at the Farm were not the best in the late 1990s," a senior intelligence official said yesterday, "and it was changed so it was not a career-ending move to go out there and train new recruits."
Steady funding for the agency has also been a problem because funds often came in one-time supplemental bills, which helped fix problems but prevented sound planning. Early last year, Bush added a significant amount of funds to the CIA's permanent budget to continue over the next five years. Said by one senior official to amount to "over a billion" dollars, it allows long-term planning without fear the money would dry up.
Even with the changes and new money, "there are an awful number of obstacles people don't think about" in recruiting, training and deploying officers, said Frank Anderson, a former senior CIA clandestine officer who once ran training programs. Training to be a clandestine officer can take a year, and for those who do not know Arabic or other needed languages, it could require two additional years.
Once officers are sent abroad, usually after a year at headquarters, new problems emerge.
If an officer is going to serve undercover as a businessperson, instead of working from an embassy job, for example, "you have to train for whatever business you are supposed to be in," Anderson said. If you are running around a country as a U.S. official, that country's counterintelligence service watches you, he said. "But if you are sent in as a businessman, then the local tax people pay attention, and they are more intrusive."
Either way, Anderson said, "all at once the amount of available operational time -- when you can meet locals and try to recruit promising agents -- is reduced. Someone in an embassy job does an embassy job; the businessperson has to do business, and if not, people notice."
Another former operations officer said the agency had already begun to "change their whole way of doing things." An officer used to be able to use an embassy job as a cover for recruiting agents -- local people who could approach Russians or Chinese, he said. But people at embassy cocktail parties are not today's targets in the fight against terrorists. "You have to get out of the embassies and recruit 'dirtballs,' or . . . people who can get to those people," he said.
Despite the buildup, the CIA will still rely heavily on "liaison" help from local police and security services, current and former officers said. "Every liaison service can get hundreds or thousands of people on the streets doing things that we could never do between our officers, whether undercover or inside embassies," one former case officer said.
In most Middle Eastern countries, he said, "it is almost inconceivable that we would have 20 people we could call out in a crisis."